1921 Census: Oh No It Isn't!
Pantomimes – that unique British institution – were thriving a century ago. There were obvious similarities with the pantomimes that we all know. The productions were based on familiar fairy stories and nursery rhymes and -then as now - the cast included famous comedians and singers. This writer saw Morecambe and Wise in The Sleeping Beauty at Manchester's Palace Theatre in 1964.
Just over a hundred years ago, the Theatre Royal on Peter Street (see earlier blog) presented Mother Goose which starred Dan Leno Junior. The production opened on December 23rd 1920 and finished on March 5th 1921. There was a performance at 645 pm and matinees started on Boxing Day at 145 pm. Further down Oxford Street, the Palace Theatre presented Dick Whittington.
Elsewhere in the city, over the holiday season of 1920 to 1921, William Henry Broadhead & Son presented no less than four separate pantomimes: there were productions of Aladdin And His Wonderful Lamp at both Hulme Hippodrome and Salford Royal Hippodrome; Mother Goose at the Osborne Theatre and Robinson Crusoe And His Man Friday at the Metropole Theatre. The advertisement in the Manchester Guardian – possibly unnecessarily- stressed, “The above pantomimes are real comedy pantomime productions, constructed for laughter purposes only.” Adding, “there are specially reduced prices for children at first performances and Saturday afternoon matinees”.
Advert for Goldilocks and the Three Bears (Opera House) 1922-3
In December 1921 the Opera House in Quay Street described itself as “The House Of Pantomime” and presented Tom Tom The Piper's Son with performances at 7pm. There were also matinees on four days. Half a mile away, the Palace Theatre presented Puss In Boots with daily performances at 2pm and 7pm. The advertisements – on the front page of the Manchester Guardian – for both shows used more and more hyperbole to attract audiences. Puss In Boots promised “magnificent scenes” and “chorus and ballet numbering over 100”. Tom Tom The Piper's Son proclaimed itself “the new and original pantomime” and featured “Special Dances by Ivy Shilling”. Both pantomimes continued until mid-February 1922.
Sporting Chronicle 29 December 1921
As I write this in September 2021, I notice that Aladdin is this year's pantomime at Manchester Opera House. Singer Alexandra Burke is playing the part of the Spirit of the Ring. Happily, some things never change- pantomime just carries on!